Guitar Center oversees various subsidiaries including Music & Arts, GuitarCenter.com, LMI, Giardinelli, Musician.com, Private Reserve Guitars, Woodwind and Brasswind, Music 123, and used to own Harmony Central until its April 2015 sale to Gibson.
|Guitar Center, Inc.|
The Organ Center|
The Vox Center
1959 (as The Organ Center)|
Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, U.S.
|Headquarters||Westlake Village, California, U.S.|
|Ron Japinga (CEO)|
|Products||Musical instruments, Recording Equipment and accessories|
Number of employees
Founded in Hollywood by Wayne Mitchell in 1959 as The Organ Center, a retailer of electronic organs for home and church use, it became a major seller of Vox electric guitars and guitar amplifiers, changing its name to The Vox Center in 1964. Toward the end of the 1960s, Vox—whose sales derived largely from its association with The Beatles, who made extensive use of its amplifiers—fell in popularity as Marshall amplifier users Eric Clapton and others captured musicians' imaginations. Accordingly, Mitchell once again changed the name, this time to Guitar Center.
The popularity of rock and roll in the 1970s allowed Mitchell to open stores in San Francisco and San Diego, as well as several suburbs of Los Angeles. Ray Scherr, previously the general manager of the San Francisco store, purchased the company from Mitchell in the late 1970s. Scherr owned and operated it until 1996 from its Westlake Village headquarters.
Although synthesizer-driven disco and new wave pop sapped rock's audience in the late 1970s, the 1980s "guitar rock" revival led by Van Halen and a concurrent influx of Japanese-produced instruments brought guitar sales to unprecedented levels. Guitar Center took full advantage of this sales bonanza, and by the end of the decade began an ambitious program of expansion across the entire United States. Using its size as leverage over the musical instrument business, it developed into the largest musical instrument retailer in the country, and made an initial public offering of stock in 1997.
On June 27, 2007, Guitar Center agreed to a $1.9 billion buyout from Bain Capital, totaling $2.1 billion including debt. The deal was led by Goldman Sachs and amounted to a per-share price of $63, or a 26% premium on the June 26 closing price. The deal was approved by shareholders on September 18, 2007, and closed October 9, 2007.
In mid-2009 Guitar Center opened the first of its rehearsal and lessons studio facility in Woodland Hills, California. The eight studios with full backline range in size from 350-550 square feet.
Guitar Center also hosts annual events such as the Drum Off, King of the Blues, contests, and artist appearances throughout the nation.
In 2011, Guitar Center added equipment rentals to the store in San Diego, California. Since, Guitar Center has opened rental departments in ten other existing locations and plans to offer rental services in various other stores across the country.
In May 2013, Standard & Poor's cut its debt rating on Bain Capital-owned Guitar Center Holdings Inc to "junk bond" status, citing struggles with "weak operating trends." The corporate credit rating on the company dropped from 'B-' to 'CCC+'.
In April 2014, Ares Management took a controlling stake in Guitar Center. Bain Capital, Guitar Center's former owner, retained partial ownership of the company, along with representation on the board. According to Mike Pratt, the retailer's previous chief executive, the deal will reduce Guitar Center's total debt and provide it with the resources to expand its footprint and invest in its business.
In August 2014, Guitar Center opened a new 28,000 square foot flagship location in the heart of Times Square in New York City. The grand opening included a celebratory concert featuring the band The Roots. The Guitar Center Times Square location is now the permanent home of Eric Clapton's Blackie Fender Stratocaster, which Guitar Center purchased at a Christie's Crossroads Centre auction in 2004 for $959,000.
In April, 2017, Moody's Investors Services revised the outlook on Guitar Center's B2 rating to negative, meaning it could downgrade the rating further into junk territory in the medium tern. The concern is that Guitar Center may be overwhelmed by its $1 billion debt in the face of flat sales in the musical instrument industry as a whole.
First debuting in 2010, each episode of Guitar Center Sessions showcases exclusive live performances by noteworthy artists captured in hi-definition at Guitar Center's iconic Hollywood, CA location. Some past guests have included Linkin Park, Saint Motel, Wiz Khalifa, Billy Idol, The 1975, Sum 41, Weezer, Smashing Pumpkins, Peter Gabriel, Alanis Morissette, 311, Megadeth, Snoop Dogg, Soundgarden, Seether, The Cult, CAKE, Jakob Dylan, Blondie, Rodrigo y Gabriela, Bush, Ben Folds Five, Korn, Joan Jett, Cheap Trick, Skylar Grey, Peter Frampton, Frank Turner, Coheed and Cambria, and Jane’s Addiction. Guitar Center Sessions is hosted by Nic Harcourt, and was created, developed and produced by Guitar Center exclusively on DirecTV. Guitar Center Sessions has won several awards, including a Lumiere Award from the International 3D Society for the episodes featuring Jane's Addiction and Peter Gabriel. To celebrate their 50th anniversary, Guitar Center asked Linkin Park to play a show on October 24, 2014; the performance first aired on DirecTV on December 5, 2014.
The At: Guitar Center web series (formerly At: Guitar Center podcast) features interviews and intimate performances with some of the biggest names in music. Some past guests have included Travis Barker, Sevendust, T-Pain, Joe Bonamassa, The Crystal Method, Buddy Guy, Daughtry, Jimmy Cliff, Meiko, Rza, Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, Brandi Carlile, and Minus the Bear, The podcasts are available on the iTunes, Zune and BlackBerry networks and on the Guitar Center website. The show is hosted by Nic Harcourt.
Connections Made by Guitar Center, a collaboration between 88.5 KCSN Los Angeles and Guitar Center, was a weekly one-hour radio program featuring fresh, new music from across the globe and musical spectrum. Signed or unsigned, the show offered an electric mix of progressive and innovative artists. The show was hosted by radio host and taste maker, Nic Harcourt.
The “Guitar Center Legends Collection” consists of four classic guitars made famous by music legends Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and U2’s The Edge. Guitar Center purchased Clapton’s “Blackie” Fender Stratocaster, his vintage Gibson “ES-335,” and Vaughan’s “Lenny” Stratocaster for over $2.4 million from the Clapton Crossroads Centre charity auction at Christie's New York in 2004. They added The Edge’s cream white Gibson Les Paul Custom after purchasing it for $240,000 at the Music Rising Charity Auction in 2007. Over the years, the collection has been exhibited in one-of-a-kind, “Legends’ Collection” display cases, which provide high level protection and climate control as the instruments tour prestigious musical events and key Guitar Center locations, such as “Guitar Center Road to Crossroads” held at Madison Square Garden in conjunction with Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Festival in April 2013. In August 2014, Clapton’s Blackie and ES-335 were moved to their new permanent location at Guitar Center’s Times Square flagship location.
Clapton's “Blackie” was purchased by Guitar Center for $959,500. Clapton’s Cherry Red Gibson “335,” purchased for $847,500, was used to record Cream’s versions of “Badge” and “Crossroads (from their final live performance in November 1968),” as well as many other historical performances, during his 40 years of ownership. Steve Ray Vaughan’s “Lenny,” which was purchased for $623,500, was used to record his classic love songs including “Lenny” and “Riviera Paradise.” All of the proceeds from these three guitars purchased by Guitar Center were for the benefit of Clapton’s Crossroads Centre charity. The Edge's cream colored 1975 Les Paul Custom (faded from its original white) found fame as a go-to guitar for stage and studio on many of U2’s most famous recordings and performances. In 2005, The Edge partnered with producer Bob Ezrin, Gibson and the Guitar Center Music Foundation (now known as the Fender Music Foundation) to establish Music Rising, a charity founded to benefit musicians whose lives were torn apart by Hurricane Katrina. In 2007, he donated this prized guitar to be auctioned for the cause. The winning bid was $240,000 from Guitar Center ($288,000 including Buyers Premium).
Since 1988, Guitar Center has held an annual search for the next great undiscovered drummer. Developed to spotlight the drumming community, Guitar Center’s Drum-Off is the music retailer’s longest running artist-discovery program, providing an outlet for drummers to be recognized for their skill and attain success in their field. For over a quarter of a century, the program has unearthed some of the day’s top undiscovered drummers and provided a platform for established drummers to be acknowledged.
Guitar Center’s Drum-Off breaks down into three rounds of store preliminary competitions at 250+ Guitar Center locations nationwide. Every contestant is allowed five minutes of set up time and three minutes to perform. One winner from each store finals competition is chosen to move up to the quarterfinals, (hosted at 30 Guitar Center locations nationwide), followed by semi-finals at five store locations at which point performance time is increased to allow five minutes to each contestant. The winners from these five semifinal locations convene in Los Angeles, CA to compete in Guitar Center’s Drum Off finals in front of a live audience and a panel of celebrity judges.
Each contestant is required to perform on a 5-piece acoustic drum kit complete with hardware, cymbals, cowbell, throne and the option to incorporate the Roland SPD-30 Octapad into the competition kit. As of 2016 however, the SPD-30 Octapad will no longer be part of the competition kit. All contestants are evaluated by a panel of independent and credible judges on the following criteria: skills & technique, groove, originality, stage presence, and overall performance.
In years past, some of the world’s most renowned drummers have participated in and supported Guitar Center’s Drum-Off, including: Terry Bozzio, Aaron Spears (Usher), Dennis Chambers (Parliament/Funkadelic), Chad Smith (Red Hot Chili Peppers), Steve Gadd, Questlove (The Roots), Travis Barker (Blink-182), Tommy Lee (Motley Crüe), Dave Lombardo (Slayer), Carmine Appice, John Tempesta (The Cult), Taylor Hawkins (Foo Fighters), Steve Smith, Gavin Harrison, Jojo Mayer, Thomas Lang, Josh Freese (Nine Inch Nails, A Perfect Circle), José Pasillas (Incubus), Billy Cobham, Nicko McBrain (Iron Maiden), Stephen Perkins (Jane’s Addiction), Danny Carey (Tool), Brann Dailor (Mastodon), John Blackwell, and more.
According to their website, and as of 2017, Guitar Center will no longer sponsor the annual drumoff. Instead, Guitar Center announced it will create a community outreach program specifically geared toward drummers.
The Sunset Boulevard location in Los Angeles hosts Hollywood's RockWalk, a hall of fame honoring musical artists. Artists are invited to place their handprints into cement blocks that are put on display at the Guitar Center. Some past inductees have included B'z, Eric Clapton, AC/DC, Aerosmith, Alanis Morissette, B.B. King, Black Sabbath, Carlos Santana, Cheap Trick, Dick Clark, Ernie Ball, Herbie Hancock, James Brown, Jerry Lee Lewis, Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, Joe Satriani, Bonnie Raitt, Johnny Cash, KISS, Les Paul, Little Richard, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Melissa Etheridge, Nancy Wilson, Slash, The Doobie Brothers, The Wrecking Crew, Van Halen, Simon Kirke, as well as countless others.
In 2000, Guitar Center purchased mail order and Internet retail house Musician's Friend for $50 million, asserting that the merged company was the world's largest seller of musical instruments. Musician's Friend became a wholly owned subsidiary that was headquartered in Medford, Oregon until 2011, when Musician's Friend's headquarters operations were gradually consolidated into Guitar Center's facilities in Westlake Village, California.
In 2005, Guitar Center Inc. acquired Music & Arts, the largest school music dealer in the United States, and merged their subsidiary band and orchestral chain American Music Group into Music & Arts (as the company was renamed). Music & Arts was founded in 1952 in Bethesda, Maryland and sells band and orchestra instruments, guitars, keyboards, drum sets, printed sheet music, and related supplies.
In the summer of 2006, Guitar Center purchased four stores in Texas from the popular South Texas and Central/South American company, Hermes.
In February 2007, the direct response division of Guitar Center, Musician's Friend, purchased assets of the Indiana-based company Dennis Bamber, Inc., which included leading band and orchestra retailer, Woodwind and Brasswind, plus Music 123 and Lyons Music.
Guitar Center, which focuses on the rock-band end of the music business, opened its first store in Hollywood in 1964, just as guitar bands were taking off.